University of Wisconsin–Madison


The foundation of water-related research at UW-Madison

Researchers at UW–Madison laid the foundation for the field of limnology in North America. Edward A. Birge was hired as zoologist at UW-Madison in 1875 and was joined by Chancey Juday in 1908. Over a 40 year period, Birge and Juday tackled a wide range of research questions emphasizing the descriptive and comparative study of north-temperate lakes. Though the death of Juday in 1944 left the program in decline, Arthur D. Hasler, a former student of Juday, returned to UW-Madison in 1937. Hasler reinvented the program to emphasize experimental approaches (including the experimental manipulation of whole lakes), fish ecology, and the conservation of freshwater systems (Beckel 1987). Upon Hasler’s retirement in 1978, the limnology program included several leaders of the field – John Magnuson, Jim Kitchell, Stanley Dodson, and eventually Steve Carpenter. While continuing Hasler’s tradition of fish studies, this group also expanded into long-term ecological research, climate change, ecosystem ecology, modeling, and regional and global perspectives on freshwaters.

UW-Madison also developed a pioneering program in water chemistry. G. Fred Lee started the first and only graduate degree program in water chemistry in the U.S. in 1962. This graduate program was changed to ‘Environmental Chemistry and Technology’ in 2001 (Brezonik and Arnold 2012).

The field of ground water hydrology can be traced back to UW-Madison through the pioneering work of Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, Franklin H. King, and Charles Sumner Slichter in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Anderson 2005). From the water engineering perspective, Daniel W. Mead, a well-known consulting engineer at the time, became head of the department of hydraulic and sanitary engineering in 1904, and is credited with the first textbook in hydrology that same year (Anderson 2006).


Anderson, M.P. 2005. The Wisconsin roots of ground water hydrology. Ground Water 43:142-145

Anderson, M.P. 2006. Daniel W. Mean, Pioneer educator, ethicist, and consultant. Ground Water 44: 319-322.

Brezonik, P.L. and W.A. Arnold. 2012. Water chemistry: fifty years of change and progress. Environmental Science and Technology.

Beckel, A.1987. Breaking new waters: A century of limnology at the University of Wisconsin. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters